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Nate Hawkins, UNLV’s first NFL draft pick, dies

Updated February 10, 2021 - 3:08 pm

Nate Hawkins, UNLV’s first NFL draft pick who played on the Rebels’ first team, died Jan. 31 in Houston from COVID-19 symptoms, according to the athletic department.

Hawkins, who would have turned 71 this past Monday, caught 108 passes for 1,896 yards and 16 touchdowns from 1968 to 1971.

His four touchdown catches in 1971 against New Mexico Highlands set the school record that has been matched twice. Hawkins also caught an 82-yard touchdown pass in 1970 against UNR, a Rebels record that stood until 1977.

He is in the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame as an individual and as part of the 1968 team, which went 8-1.

Hawkins made an immediate impression on quarterback Bill Casey on that team, asking him after the first practice if they could stay and throw passes. It became a near daily routine. Other quarterbacks and receivers later joined them.

“Nate was a big part of that team,” Casey said. “He wanted to learn like crazy, and he figured out that maybe I was the guy who could teach him.

“He had a lot of talent. He needed a lot of coaching, but his work ethic, he brought with him from Houston. Nobody had to teach him that.”

UNLV had planned to honor Hawkins this month as part of Black History Month even before Hawkins entered a hospital late last month because of a cough that wouldn’t go away.

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the 16th round of the 1972 NFL draft, the 403rd pick.

Hawkins caught one NFL pass for 32 yards for the Houston Oilers on a Monday Night Football game in 1975 against the Steelers.

Hawkins is survived by his wife, Jeanette, and their two children.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.